Thursday, June 20, 2019

Disney Series 2 Minifigures


With the first Disney Minifigures series, I only acquired 7 out of the 18 characters, so limited my review to those characters. (I did, however, buy an extra Maleficent, and have found her headdress very useful for various horned fiends.) Disney Series 2 Minifigures were released May 1, and I'm pleased to say that I've found more of them to be must-haves for my collection.

I'm not enough of a fan of Disney's mice and duck characters to be interested in buying them (though some RuneQuest players might feel otherwise about the waterfowl). I acquired 11 out of the remaining 12 minifigures this past week--missing only Edna, who I plan to collect soon--and will give a quick review of those here. As usual, my comments are biased towards my own gaming needs, but I try to call out what I like best about each character, and what I think would be interesting to others.

Anna and Elsa each come with hard rubber hair in their signature style, a cloth cape (Elsa's covered in snowflakes, Anna's a solid plum color), and the new skirt style that debuted in the recently revived Harry Potter theme. Their outfits are very detailed, including glittery silver highlights on Elsa's bodice, arms, and cape. Both princesses have double-sided heads, with one side showing a small smile, and the other a grin and a wink. (These winks mirror each other, perfect for posing the sisters as co-conspirators.) Anna's accessory is a lantern (also in the new H.P. style.), while Elsa comes with a very large trans-blue snowflake (a new color for the Christmas star from the Winter Village series).

One of the regulars in our local Pathfinder Society community recently debuted a new character, a witch with water and cold kineticist powers, based on Elsa. I made a point of buying an extra minifigure to give him so that he would have the perfect mini for her. He gave me back the snowflake brick, as it was rather bulky for his Disney princess's mini to carry, and he's not a LEGO collector. However, a similarly ice-themed character could use it as a magic shield or a giant shuriken.

Chip and Dale come with the new poseable short legs assembly. Chip comes with an acorn, which uses the mandrake root piece from the Harry Potter series (minus the printed face) capped with a dark brown 1x1 "nipple" plate. Dale carries a sack that has appeared in several past sets. I bought these two because my wife was a huge Rescue Rangers fan as a kid. We're both a bit disappointed that the chipmunks are dressed only in their own fur--per their earliest appearances--not the colorful clothes they adopt in later cartoons. In addition, their tails are painted on rather than three-dimensional. I found this surprising, since all the duck characters have tiny tail pieces inserted between their torsos and legs.

Frozone wears his white and aqua super-suit, and flashes a confident smile. He comes with two of the "energy blast" missiles found in some Marvel Superheroes sets, though I think clear is a new color for them. He also comes with a light gray disk with two studs for his feet; a 1x2 jumper plate lifts this snowy "surfboard" slightly above the baseplate. I predict this disk will be highly popular among gamers who use LEGO for minis, because it makes a very nice-looking base. However, it is 4x4 in size, which makes it too big to fit a 1" square. The lack of notches in the side also make it impossible to attach directly to the top of a large studded plate, which limits its use in building. (The piece is, however, the perfect size for gamers who build terrain a scale of a 4x4 plate per 5-foot square, and the disk can rest on top of studs without getting stuck to them.)

Hades is one of my favorite characters in this series, despite also being one of the more frustrating ones: His flaming blue hair is glued on, rather than a separate piece. (If not for that fusion, his wig would make lovely ifrit, gnome, or aquatic elf hair.) He does, however come with a lovely piece for the lower half of his toga, trailing off into tendrils of smoke. This part will be very useful in building the darker types of incorporeal undead and air or smoke elementals. It has a few dark blue lines that continue the folds in Hades' toga, but they're barely noticeable without his torso attached. Finally, Hades comes with two of the (dirt-common) trans-orange flame bricks.

Hercules wears armor in a cartoon-y style that matches the movie, and bears a shield with Zeus's cloud and thunderbolt. His dramatic orange hairpiece would look good on many a dashing hero, and I believe that his cloth cape is a new shape. His head is double-sided, one side smiling and the other angry/determined. He wields the same shortsword as the gladiator (Series 5) and Roman officer (Series 10).

Hercules, Jafar, and Jasmine (below) all have a light caramel-tan skin tone that matches Aladdin's in Disney Series 1. They offer a very appealing alternative to the "flesh pink" of most licensed minifigures, and having three of them in the same series provides some nice diversity within this relatively new skin tone.

Jack Skellington wears his trademark pinstripe suit, which includes cloth coat-tails and a bat "bow-tie." He comes with a gift-wrapped box--also in black and white--that holds a couple of 1x1 clear round tiles printed with snowflakes. I find it very interesting that three characters in this series have snow-themed accessories--Jack's and Elsa's snowflakes, and Frozone's missiles. This makes it easier to outfit one of them, or your own cold-based hero, with additional thematic props.

Jafar's black and maroon outfit is very nicely done, with the new skirt piece, flared shoulders, a cloth cape, and a single-piece turban with cloth drape, jewel, and feather. He carries a classic gold snake staff. His face is two-sided, one side with a merely haughty expression and one with an open sneer.

Jasmine wears her usual turquoise harem pants and bandeau; she even has the latter's straps printed on her arms, and her torso has a fully printed back. Her hard-rubber hairpiece includes her earrings, jeweled headband, and long ponytail. She is one of the few characters in this series who has hair but only one face, but overall she is a lovely Arabian princess figure. She comes with a small white pet bird, which I believe is a new piece. It would be perfect for a thrush or other songbird familiar.

Sally's patchwork body is made with a combination of two-color casting and printing. The patterns--and stitch marks--wrap around the sides of her legs and arms. She, too, has a two-sided head, but the faces are nearly identical except for the open and closed mouths. Her wig is a new piece that emphasizes the artificial straightness of her hair. She comes with the tiny black tree of her vision, which is built from a Friends-style flower attached by a tiny pin to a three-leaved stalk (like the top of Neville's mandrake, but in black). This accessory would make a lovely mini for a small, sinister plant, such as a petrifern (Pathfinder RPG Familiar Folio) or a leshy. Just stick the stalk into the hole of a 2x2 radar dish to give it a stable base.

Sally came with two trees, so I plan to give my extra to a friend who has a vine leshy character in Pathfinder Society. (This idea works even better now that their PC has been adopted into the infamous Blakros family!)

Past Collectible Minifigures Reviews 

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!
Series 15 Minifigures
Disney Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 16
The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2
LEGO Minifigures Series 18: Party
LEGO Minifigures: Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts
The LEGO Movie 2 Minifigures

Friday, June 14, 2019

Grin and Bear It

Back in the 1980s, teddybear-like races seemed to be everywhere in fantasy and science fiction media, particularly in cartoons aimed at younger fans. First came Return of the Jedi (1983), which introduced the Ewoks. These furry folk returned in two Ewok movies and a short-lived cartoon over the next couple of years. The Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985) episode "The Traitor" featured cloud bears, who were obviously based on Ewoks, but with better technology and language skills. Then in 1985, Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears debuted, featuring a family of cute talking bears with access to a unique magical recipe. (The Care Bears also appeared in this decade, but that franchise never appealed to me, as they were overly saccharine and clearly aimed at a much younger audience.)

I was introduced to role-playing games just a year or two before Jedi, and the mid-to-late-'80s were my teen years. Therefore it was inevitable that I would try to work out game mechanics for my own small ursine humanoid race. I called them cloud bears after the D&D cartoon, but deliberately designed them to serve just as well for Ewoks or Gummi Bears. Those notes no longer survive, having gone the way of all my other juvenile RPG adaptations (like Voltron and Thundercats).

I was reminded of that old project by a thread at The Piazza asking members whether they used Ewoks in their Star Wars campaigns. Both my favored systems and my game design skills have changed dramatically in the past 30 years, so I decided to try to recreate that old idea using my current system of choice. The Race Builder rules in the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Race Guide made this exercise quite easy. You'll need a copy of that book (or follow the link to the online Pathfinder SRD) for full details of the traits listed below.

Bearfolk


Bearfolk are a race of small furry humanoids with soft, rounded features that often cause larger races to dismiss them as cute and harmless. The bearfolk usually encourage such erroneous thinking for their own safety. They are approximately the size of halflings or gnomes, but tend to be somewhat more stockily built. All are covered by a dense layer of fur that gives them some additional protection from enemies and the weather.

Most bearfolk dwell in forests, where they can find food and building materials in abundance. Isolated family groups build camouflaged homes in caves, hollow trees, or hidden dells. Larger communities take to the trees themselves, building their homes on platforms high in the canopy, connected by rope and plank bridges. Crude elevators hung from cranes or winches give access to and from the forest floor, while allowing the bearfolk to withdraw out of reach of ground-bound threats.

Bearfolk leaders are chosen for their skills at surviving in the wilderness, efficiently organizing their people to solve problems, and negotiating with outsiders. They tend to belong to socially-oriented classes such as bards or charismatic rogues.

  • Type
    • Humanoid (bearfolk) (0 RP)
  • Size
    • Small (0 RP)
  • Base Speed
    • Slow (-1 RP)
  • Ability Score Modifiers
    • Standard (-2 Str, +2 Dex, +2 Cha*) (0 RP)
  • Languages
    • Standard (Bearfolk, Common) (0 RP)*
  • Racial Traits
    • Defense Racial Traits
      • Bond to the Land (2 RP)
      • Lucky, Lesser (1 RP)
      • Natural Armor (1 RP)
      • Stubborn (2 RP)*
    • Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      • Skill bonus (+2 Climb) (2 RP)
      • Gregarious (1 RP)*
    • Senses Racial Traits
      • Low-light Vision (1 RP)
  • Total: 9 RP















At least two subraces of bearfolk have been identified. Members of those subraces replace the bonus to Charisma and the Stubborn and Gregarious traits (marked with an asterisk [*] above) with the new traits listed below. The total Race Points remain unchanged. Feral bearfolk also replace the Standard language trait.

Feral Bearfolk

These bearfolk are superstitious and highly suspicious of all other races, because so many of the creatures native to their forest or jungle homelands are bigger and more dangerous than they are. Some adventurers describe them as backwards and quaint, but endearing; others paint them as bloodthirsty cannibals. Most tribes are limited to stone age weapons, but they are far from stupid, and often quite ingenious in rigging traps to protect their homes.

Their leaders are typically rangers, druids, or shamans, whose deep knowledge of the natural world helps the tribe survive and flourish.

  • Ability Score Modifiers
    • Standard (-2 Str, +2 Dex, +2 Wis) (0 RP)
  • Languages
    • Xenophobic (0 RP)
  • Racial Traits
    • Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      • Camouflage (1 RP)
      • Stalker (1 RP)
    • Offense Racial Traits
      • Swarming (1 RP)

Witch Bears

These clever bearfolk live in smaller groups than others of their race, typically in individual dwellings or tiny settlements consisting of a single extended family. They are known for experimenting with alchemy and magic, with each family claiming an ancestor who invented or discovered one or more new alchemical substances or magical rituals. (The bouncy body spell-like ability listed below is just one example of a secret recipe handled down within a family.)

Witch bear leaders are typically alchemists, wizards, or witches dedicated to preserving and perfecting their family's unique traditions. Individual characters often pursue archetypes that grant alchemical powers (such as mutagens) to classes that normally lack them.

  • Ability Score Modifiers
    • Standard (-2 Str, +2 Dex, +2 Int) (0 RP)
  • Racial Traits
    • Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      • Skill Bonus (+2 to any one Craft) (2 RP)
    • Magical Racial Traits
      • Spell-like Ability, Lesser (1/day--bouncy body [Monster Codex 105]) (1 RP)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #24: A Story to Tell Her Camel

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.
-----

Last time, the caravan reached the town of Dal-Raman, located at the edge of the sandy part of the Lokoran Desert. Our heroes were given a day's liberty by their employer, Vartoranax, while he conducted some business. They spotted a tavern, The Thirsty Centaur, which turned out to be run by a high elf woman, Miriella, who took a liking to Edel and encouraged him to visit her later. While shopping in the market, the party foiled an assassination attempt on Usama, a town elder. Usama offered his house as a place to question the surviving assassin, then his servants helped drag the bodies in off the street.

The elder wished to send a runner to the settlement's chief lawman, Peacekeeper Morag, but worried for his servants' safety following the attack. ZhaZha and Fatou volunteered for escort duty, while Jumari and Edel stayed here to question the prisoner.

Peacekeeper Morag
Usama's servant led them to the Peacekeeper's office, a utilitarian stone barracks located a short distance from the market, with a small, windowless jail attached. The staff here was human, except for a single halfling and their chief. Morag was a tall, muscular half-orc who wore a chain shirt and carried a small arsenal: a longbow and quiver, an orcish double axe, and a bandolier of alchemical weapons. (He also wore a symbol of the Javanian pantheon next to his badge.) Once ZhaZha informed him of the attack on the elder, Morag promptly agreed to go with them to Usama's house, and hear more of the details on the way.

Meanwhile, Edel healed the bound half-orc woman just enough to wake her. She opened her eyes, saw Jumari, and seemed disturbed enough by the sight of the veiled albino half-orc that she refused to meet the inquisitor's eyes. Edel began the interrogation by politely asking her to explain the attack, and managed to persuade her to talk. She was sent to kill the elder as a holy mission from her master, to spread fear of their god. She was not allowed to speak her master's name, and refused to tell where his training cave was. When asked why she chose Usama as her target, she replied that the other elders were more careful. (The old man seemed outraged at this, but subsided after a moment of self-reflection.) She did not know if any other attacks were planned.

Jumari asked how she got up the Escarpment. "I walked." This confirmed the inquisitor's guess that the assassin came from some ways to the south, so Jumari asked if she belonged to the Ghost Fist clan. She denied it--"I serve the god more directly"--but did know enough about where that tribe's territory (south of the Escarpment, west of the Stairs) to avoid them on her way here. Jumari stepped closer and pulled back her veil to reveal her white skin and prominent red birthmark. "Why are you afraid of me?" The other woman seemed absolutely terrified of her, and shrieked, "Only the White Orc can kill the Master!"

Fatou, ZhaZha, and Morag entered Usama's house just in time to hear that outburst. Edel quickly brought the Peacekeeper up to speed as Morag examined the assassin's dead accomplices. He discovered that each of them had the name "Ras Radaz" tattooed in Halfling script somewhere on their bodies. The prisoner flinched as he read the name aloud. Edel and Fatou recognized the name as a legendary assassin in the death-god Asmolon's cult, and the leader of the force that killed the half-orc hero Gorza. When Edel asked the cultist how she followed a supposedly dead assassin, she proclaimed, "The Master has transcended death!" She then looked at Jumari again, and fainted. Morag took the opportunity to examine the woman more closely, and found the Ras Radaz tattoo on her as well.

The heroes asked Morag and Usama for their opinion of what to do with her. The two men agreed that the cultists was too dangerous to leave alive. They exchanged a few words that seemed to be some sort of shorthand from long practice, then agreed that a prompt and public declaration of her crimes, followed by a swift execution, would be best. Usama ordered a servant to fetch his trumpet, and a small procession formed, with the adventurers assisting Morag in carrying the bodies to the market square. They ascended a platform that sported a pillory at one end and a chopping block at the other. Having noted Edel's interest in the instrument, Usama allowed him to blow the trumpet to get bystanders' attention.

A crowd soon gathered, and the elder gave a brief speech about the attack on his person. Morag effortlessly lifted one of the dead assassins with one hand and used the other to rip away clothing to display the tattoo. He instructed the townsfolk to report to him if they see anyone with the same tattoo--"and let me do what I do best." He then asked ZhaZha, who was carrying the living cultist, to hold her up for him. He unslung his double axe, stretched a bit, then skillfully beheaded the criminal. The spray of blood drew cheers form the crowd, a few of whom chanted the Peacekeeper's name until Morag spoke again, declaring justice done in the elder's name and ordering the crowd to disperse. More quietly, he thanked ZhaZha for her assistance as he cleaned his blade on the dead woman's clothing. He told her to leave the body for his people to dispose of, and gave permission for her and her companions to take anything of value from the bodies.

This looting yielded a handful of healing potions and a number of masterwork weapons and suits of light armor. They claimed some for themselves, and collected the rest to sell in the market. The real prize of the lot was a scabbard of vigor that all agreed ZhaZha should take.

The cavalier's friends had seen the admiring looks the Peacekeeper gave her, and took action to encourage him. Before departing the platform, Jumari invited Morag to have dinner with them. Edel had his own plans for the evening, but cast heroism on ZhaZha before departing (then cast heroism on himself en route to the Thirsty Centaur). Fatou bought a fine meal for the others at a nearby inn. After she and Jumari finished eating, they slipped out of the inn to leave the two warriors alone.

The moon was still full, so the two priests went their separate ways to spend time in private devotions. Jumari started a new tattoo to commemorate this latest "inquisition," but has not quite settled on its form. [Fatou might ask Jumari to use her skills to provide her with a tattoo of her own holy symbol, but it seems unlikely that the half-orc would do that for another god's faith.]

Miriella, faerie priestess and
proprietor of the Thirsty Centaur
Edel found Miriella at the tavern, and had a long and fruitful conversation with her as they became better acquainted. The elven woman had left Fendorlis when kobolds invaded the forest and destroyed the temple and distillery where she worked. She bought a small brewhouse here in Dal-Raman, and spent the next few years repairing it and starting over. She was very curious about where the bard was from, and his adventures since leaving their homeland. He told her many stories of his travels, and mentioned the caravan he traveled with now--but not what race his current employers were. Miriella was surprised that two of his companions were half-orcs, but he explained that they were stalwart companions, and eager to help him drive out the kobolds.

Since leaving Fendorlis, Miriella has had occasional news about rebels fighting the kobolds in Galdar, the border town where Edel was headed. A woman known only as "The Red Swan" led the rebels, and the priestess suggested that the bard seek out her help. Miriella did not know how to find the Swan, but did know that she and some of her people were among those who swore the Oath of the Bloody Tree. Edel had heard of this group, who swore to eliminate the kobold conquerors and reclaim their homeland. Miriella described most of the Sworn as fanatics, but admitted that they did provide some of the most effective resistance to the invaders so far. Their talk soon turned to more pleasant things, and both were pleased to experience the other's skills in the love goddess Nalanimil's arts.

Across town, ZhaZha soon forgot her mild irritation at her friends' blatant maneuvering. Morag had quickly sized her up as a seasoned warrior, and the two half-orcs eagerly discussed weapons and fighting techniques, long after they finished their meal and left the inn. The cavalier praised the Peacekeeper's fine axe, and he allowed her to try her hand at it. She was clumsy at first, but soon grew steadier with it, though it would never feel as comfortable to her as a pick or lance. While sparring, Morag finally propositioned her, and she only needed a moment's thought before agreeing. Morag had treated her with far more respect than any of the brutish louts back home ever had, and she had thoroughly enjoyed his company so far. ["And she will have a story to tell her camel," as her player put it. Whether she ever tells her other companions anything about it remains to be seen.] 

Before ZhaZha left Morag's home the next morning, he expressed his desire that she would visit him whenever she next passed through his town. She readily agreed: "We can trade tips."

Edel's farewells with Miriella were cordial as well. He promised to bring her news of home if he came back this way.

The caravan left Dal-Raman at dusk. The kobolds expected the journey to Galdar to take five days. Along the way--and well out of earshot of the little reptiles--Edel informed the others of what he had learned about Galdar and the rebels there.

Jumari also she felt very strongly about her new identity as "the White Orc." ZhaZha agreed with her, and earnestly wished to avenge Gorza, the hero for whom her home village was named.

-----

My teenaged daughter has asked to join the campaign, and the other players were happy to welcome her to the game. They all already have some experience gaming with her, primarily through Pathfinder Society. We will be introducing her character (a gnome summoner) once the party reaches Fendorlis, which should be next session.

She will start at the same level (5th) so that I will only have to track one XP total for everyone. Our last couple sessions have gone a long way to correct the amount of wealth the PCs should have, but they aren't completely where they should be yet, so the new character will be starting with wealth approximately on par with what they have when they meet her. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

TBT: Corasgrove

"Corasgrove" was a dungeon-crawl D&D v.3.5 campaign that I ran for about one year in 2009-2010. It was inspired by and based on Cartographica by Todd Gamble (Green Ronin Publishing, out-of-print), which features interconnected maps for a cemetery, underground tombs, cavern tunnels, a dragon's lair, and a wizard's tower. I populated the maps, created the town of Corasgrove as a base of operations, and let the PCs explore it sandbox-style.

The Heroes

The party consisted of the following characters, who started at 10th level and reached 13th level by campaign's end:
  • Daraj L'Bayal: male dwarf fighter/evoker/eldritch knight.
    • Rekla: hawk (familiar).
  • Kinashal Durret: female human rogue/shadowdancer.
    • Blot and Blotch: shadow (companions, original and new, respectively).
  • Merrick Acari: male human ranger.
    • Bigby: wolf (animal companion).
    • Kymoria Seldeson: female half-elf bard (cohort, gained during campaign).
  • Mitzinya nic Pelor: female half-orc paladin of Pelor.
    • Bob: heavy warhorse (special mount)
  • Drusilia Chandler: female half-elf cleric of Fharlanghn.

Drusilia was an NPC added to provide healing and local background information. She was treated as a cohort to the party as a whole, advancing when they did but always two levels behind.

The following information was background provided to the players. It has been archived here at Thastygliax's Vault, where I have also archived the PCs' stat blocks and a handful of the NPCs and new monsters they encountered.

The Duchy of Ivellion

Ivellion is a fair-sized human realm bordered by the sea to the east, the forested elven homeland to the north, mountains to the west (populated by dwarves and giants), and monster-infested wilderness to the south (full of orcs and goblinoids, and worse). Many enclaves of nonhumans [the PH races] can be found within Ivellion, and several human settlements have notable nonhuman minorities.

Duke Wilhelm Lakes rules from the bustling metropolis of Silverport (pop. 47,000), at the mouth of the Silver River (the main east-west trade route). The capital contains the chief temples of several gods worshiped in Ivellion (Heironeous and Yondalla in particular), a loose confederation of artisan and merchant guilds, and the Arcane Cabal (a wizards' guild of sorts).

About two week's travel to the northwest is the city of Nallow (pop. 10,000), home of a major temple of Pelor. The city and surrounding lands are ruled by the half-elven baroness Valenta Wallsby. Being roughly a week's travel of the dwarven mountains, the elven woods, and the small gnomish republic in between the two, Nallow is a major trade center, and fairly rich and cosmopolitan for its size.

The town of Corasgrove is located about two days' ride from Nallow.

Corasgrove

Corasgrove was founded a century ago by three sibling adventurers (the Coras) and their band of companions and followers. One brother, the paladin Sir Vernon Cora, organized the town's defenses and government, while his sister Samantha, a druid, led the nature-worshipers of the nearby forest that gave the town its name.

A network of natural and excavated tunnels was discovered in the area, and the Coras found themselves busy trying to rid them of undead and other threats. This culminated in a series of battles with a vampire lord, in which the third sibling, Torrance Cora, and his wife were slain and turned. The vampire was never slain, but had lost much of its former power. The surviving Coras erected a mausoleum to honor their brother and retainers; this also served to block and ward the most obvious entrance to the catacombs.

A generation later, after the paladin's death, a black dragon moved into water-filled caverns near the town and its lake, and began to prey on local animals and people. Eventually, the druid took the fight into the dragon's lair, but was never seen again; however, the dragon did leave the area very soon afterwards.

Fifteen years ago, a powerful wizard received the town council's approval to build a dam and tower between the town's lake and the next lake upstream. He is a recluse, and is only seen when he makes rare trips to Corasgrove for supplies.

Over the last few years, Corasgrove has been plagued by increasing numbers of monsters--mostly undead--emerging from the tunnels once more. Then two years ago, the dragon returned. So far, it has avoided attacking humans unless they tried to deny it a meal, but it still poses a significant threat to the town.

A traveling priest of Fharlanghn has brought word of the town's undead and dragon problems to the city in which the PCs live. They quickly agreed to go to Corasgrove with her to try to eradicate these threats.

Additional Corasgrove Background

Here's a summary of what the party knows about Corasgrove, after Drusilia's initial briefing and some additional information gathering about town:

Corasgrove

  • Population 1400; about 3/4 human.
  • Ruled by a town council.
  • Town guard is small (only about a dozen full-time soldiers), led by Constable Hank Corasson. (Probably less than 100 militia could be mustered?)
  • Some experienced warriors and hunters, but lacks heroes of founders' caliber.
  • Sam's Tree, in the town square, is site of seasonal rites for town; popular with farmers and elves.

Corasgrove timeline

  • 120 Years Ago (YA): Corasgrove founded by Cora siblings (paladin Sir Vernon, warrior Torrance, druid Samantha), their adventuring companions, and retainers. Named for the druid grove that Samantha adopted as her own.
  • From founding, town has accepted any race and creed (other than outright evil).
  • 110 YA: Sir Vernon and Torrance slain fighting Balthazar the Black, a vampire who ruled the local dungeons; the vampire lord escaped. Torrance's body not recovered; believed turned. Mausoleum built to seal known entrance to dungeons, as well as to house Sir Vernon and deceased retainers.
  • 80 YA: Vonnaril Senthirron (elf), a Cora comrade, leaves town to become high priestess of Corellon in Silverport (and still is).
  • 70 YA: Zhakungar (female black dragon) moves into caves near the falls between the two ponds.
  • 65 YA: Corasson Keep, built as a defense against dragon, is completed. Sir Vernon Cora's direct descendents still live in it.
  • 60 YA: Earthquake damages Corellon's temple in the Grove, and it falls into disuse.
  • 40 YA: Samantha Cora vows to rid town of the dragon, but disappears soon after. The dragon leaves the area not long after that.
  • 15 YA: Master Adam Tarnwater (human wizard) gets permission to build a dam and tower over the falls, for undisclosed experiments.
  • 6 YA: Increase in sightings of ghosts and walking dead in town burial ground; also sightings of sinister black hounds, and rumors of worse.
  • 2 YA: Zhakungar returns to Corasgrove. The town council is divided about what to do about her (and attempts to quash any rumors that they would even consider giving in to the dragon).

The Grove

  • A number of fey live here, including at least a few dryads and sprites.
  • In Samantha Cora's time, the Grove's druids were on friendly terms with the townsfolk. Since her disappearance 40 YA, however, they have become much more secretive. There are likely only a handful there now, and the townsfolk don't know any of them.
  • Vonnaril Senthirron built and presided over the temple of Corellon, but eventually left for her god's temple in Silverport. 20 years later, an earthquake damaged the Grove temple, and the elves stop using it; some worshipped at home, in the forest, or at Sam's Tree, while others drifted to the worship of Ehlonna or Pelor.

The Burial Ground

  • Rumored to be haunted pretty much since town founded.
  • Safe during the day; avoided at night due to spirits and walking dead.
  • Townsfolk occasionally attacked by skeletons, zombies, or shadows; occurring more frequently in past 6 years, plus rumors of worse.
  • Sinister black hounds have been seen from time to time; their howls are occasionally heard in the closest parts of Corasgrove itself.
  • More than one person has seen "things" digging at graves; most tales claim seeing 2-4 at a time; uncertain if humanoid or quadruped.
  • Another paladin, a squire to Sir Vernon, is buried in own tomb here, instead of in Mausoleum.
  • Occasionally, a new monument is found where none stood before. Town clerics can detect no evil aura about them.
  • The burial ground holds shrines to Wee Jas and St. Cuthbert, believed to be long disused.
  • A small group of armored men have been sighted entering the nearby Shrine of Boccob, also thought sealed and abandoned for some time.
  • Local criminals use the cemetery's haunted reputation to conduct business there (and possibly to rob tombs?). Burglaries in Corasgrove are more common in the north end of town, nearest the burial ground.

The Dragon

  • Zhakungar, female black dragon (age unknown, but well over 70).
  • First moved into caves 70 YA; left 40 YA, soon after Samantha Cora vanished; returned 2 YA. Nothing is known about her life away from Corasgrove.
  • Since return, seems content to hunt game and livestock. Has only killed humans who got between her and prey.

The Wizard

  • Master Adam Tarnwater, human wizard.
  • Arrived 15 YA; built dam and tower.
  • Rarely visits town, except to purchase supplies, which vary from foodstuffs to building supplies to arcane materials (though town's resources very limited there).
  • On trips to town, always accompanied by a humanoid, animated statue of some sort. Sometimes also accompanied by an extremely attractive young woman (name unknown).
  • Tarnwater has been known to purchase unusual animals (lizards, snakes, other exotic pets) or carcasses (magical beasts found or slain by the town's better hunters).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Harrowing Experiences Ahead!

In the Pathfinder RPG's default setting of Golarion, the Harrow deck is a divination tool that fills the same role as our world's Tarot deck. It consists of 54 cards, divided into six suits of nine cards each. Each suit corresponds to one of the game's six ability scores, and each card in a suit corresponds to one of the nine alignments. When you need to determine what card is drawn, you can either use a physical Harrow deck (sold by Paizo) or roll dice (d6 for ability score; d10 for alignment, rerolling 10's).

I was introduced to this bit of world lore when I started playing Pathfinder Society, and was told that there were many character options (a prestige class, archetypes, feats, and spells) that made use of the Harrow. However, in order to legally use those options in PFS, you need to own an actual Harrow deck, which can be difficult to find. (The Paizo site currently lists the Deluxe Harrow Deck as available, but I'm not sure I've ever seen one in a store.) Because of that, I never looked into those options--until very recently, when I found a reasonably priced copy on eBay (approximately MSRP, with free shipping).

Once I acquired my own deck, I started to look at the various Pathfinder titles that make use of it. The instruction book included with the Deluxe deck lists most of these, and I've also found a couple of Pathfinder Society scenarios that feature the deck.

Inner Sea World Guide: This sourcebook includes an equipment entry for the Harrow deck, a harrowing divination spell, and a Harrowed feat (which provides a random benefit once a day determined by a card draw). Harrowed characters can qualify for the Harrower prestige class: a fortune-teller who can tap into the mystic power of her deck to enhance her spellcasting, and to subtly twist fate to help herself and her allies.

Varisia: Birthplace of Legends: This book provides background on the Varisian culture that produced the Harrow deck as we know it. It includes a racial trait for Varisian humans that grants a free heirloom Harrow deck, which is pretty much the only affordable way to start with one at 1st level (a deck costs 100 gp).

The Harrow Handbook: This is the primary sourcebook for players who want to make the Harrow a defining feature of their character. Hallow-themed archetypes and class features are provided for several classes, as well as a variety of new feats tied to those elements, or to the deck itself. There is also a method for generating a character's background using card draws.

Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path: This adventure path is set in Varisia, and includes special rules for influencing play using a Harrow deck. However, I lack the time in my busy gaming schedule to commit to playing an Adventure Path, so will not be investigating the Harrow elements of these adventures.

Pathfinder Quest: Phantom Phenomena: In one of this 1st-level adventure's quests, the heroes are sent to recover the Harrow deck of a famous fortune-teller.

Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-01: Portent's Peril: In this Tier 1-5 adventure, the PCs are called in to aid an ally of the Society who has just received a disturbing Harrowing that foretells great disasters.

The Harrowing: This adventure for 9th-level characters features a unique Harrow deck artifact, and a demiplane tied to it, in which its cards are brought to life.

This research has inspired me to create a new PFS character, a diviner who will be working toward the Harrower prestige class. I'll be running Phantom Phenomena and Portent's Peril next month to earn her first couple of XP as GM credit. I also plan to run The Harrowing at some point, but it's much higher level, so I'm not sure how soon that will be. I will almost certainly reserve that Chronicle sheet for when my diviner reaches that level.

Meanwhile, I have used my new Harrow deck for exactly one divination so far. I asked my daughter (who is also active in PFS) to be the guinea pig, and we determined that her question would be on behalf of her bones oracle. Skalren is a devout worshiper of Pharasma, despite using some revelations that most of his coreligionists would strenuously object to. He is, however, a staunch enemy of evil necromancers, with a particular hatred for Zyphus following a series of clashes with his cult. (How dare they try to steal power from his goddess?!) Skalren's question was asking whether Pharasma approved of him and his methods.

The first step of a traditional Harrowing is the Choosing, in which the person performing the reading decides which of the six suits best fits the question. I decided on Charisma, because that's the oracle's key ability, and the question involved an attitude towards the subject. The querent draws one card from that suit at random, which will signify them if it appears in the spread to follow. Skalren drew the Unicorn (CG).

Then comes the Harrowing proper. The entire deck is shuffled, and nine cards are laid out face-down in three rows of three. The resemblance to the alignment grid is intentional: cards that match their position exactly are the most significant, followed by matches to the exactly opposite alignment, and then partial matches (cards with only one alignment in common with their position). The left column is turned over first, and represents the past. Here we had a true or partial match (I forget which) with the Brass Dwarf, which suggests servitude and toil. The middle column represents the present, and here we had a partial match with the Trumpet, a card that indicates a crusade or similar cause. Taken together, I interpreted these two cards as Skalren's obsession with the undead, followed by his newfound outrage at the existence of Zyphus's cult giving him a higher purpose. The right-hand column is turned over last, and represents the future. Here, we had the Unicorn as a true match. With it also being the signifier card, the answer to Skalren's question was overwhelmingly positive! Keep doing what you're doing, you creepy, wonderful child.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Roleplaying games as sandwiches

While enjoying my latest meal delivered by my favorite bakery-and-sandwiches place, I was struck by the idea of comparing role-playing game systems to sandwiches. (Yes, I was very hungry!)

The bread is the game mechanics of the RPG; it's what holds the rest in place and lets you get a solid grip on the game in order to consume it. Sometimes it's bland and serviceable, while other times it provides a satisfying flavor or crunch all on its own. Some bread is good and solid, and holds the whole sandwich together neatly. But the more things you stuff into the sandwich, the greater the chance of it falling apart and making a mess before you can finish it. However, there are some sandwiches--and games--that taste so good that when they get messy, you just pick up the pieces and keep going because you don't want to miss any of the good stuff. (I'm tempted to say that a universal system is like a wrap, because it can hold whatever you want it to--within reason. And making your rules too dense and arcane to be comprehensible is like using bread that's too thick or hard to bite and chew.)

The protein is the core activity of the game; it's the part that defines the whole (e.g., a peanut butter sandwich, a hamburger; dungeon crawling, spycraft). Naturally, some games are meatier and more fulfilling than others, and some have more variety within their core activities.

All of the other ingredients are the elements that combine to give the game its unique flavor. Some are common to most games withinn a given genre or subgenre (such as the tropes that many fantasy RPGs inherited from D&D). You could think of these as the most popular condiments. Others are rarely seen outside of a handful of games. Maybe they only work well with a few other specific ingredients, maybe they require a bigger investment to acquire, prepare, and consume, or maybe they're very much an acquired taste. Some ingredients may be considered strictly optional, either by design or by common practice (hold the pickles; ignore the critical fumbles rules).

The overall size of the sandwich indicates how much effort it takes to prepare for and/or consume the game. A slim, simple game may be great when you don't have a lot of time to prep or play, or just want to savor one or two favorite ingredients by themselves. A larger, more complex game will have more parts, which will take more time to assemble, to discover how the various flavors interact, and to chew your way through the whole thing. (And if your game is the equivalent of a dagwood sandwich, you'd better have a LOT of time on your hands--not to mention a good memory and plenty of napkins!)

There are some sandwich aficionados who insist on a strict structure for how to assemble all the ingredients, and sneer at what they consider less perfect creations. Similarly, some gamers will loudly criticize a game for not meeting their own biased expectations. But just because you don't like how a sandwich is made, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's an awful sandwich, or that other people won't like it (or even love it). It's just not to your taste. If there is something you don't like about a sandwich, feel free to change it, or put together something entirely new. Some changes may be off-putting to others, which could make it harder to find people willing to sample your latest experiment--or you might get very lucky and hit upon the next hot trend.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #23: Death Comes to Dal-Raman

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.
-----

Last time, our heroes solved the mysteries of the elemental shrines in the cyclops ruin, earning each of them a magical treasure. After completing their study of the site, the caravan continued onward, and was attacked by a pack of jackalweres. The adventurers defeated these monsters, but not before the kobolds they were escorting suffered their first casualty of this journey.

The heroes stopped one jackalwere from bleeding to death so that they could question him. They bound him and healed him just enough to become conscious again. Edel's attempts at diplomacy did not make it cooperative enough, so Jumari took over, and thoroughly intimidated the creature. She learned that the jackalweres had attacked in order to seize food (the people) and treasure (their stuff). The inquisitor and her companions had just wiped out his entire pack. Other packs roamed the desert, but he did not know where they were now. He also knew nothing about the death cult or its activities. When the jackalwere had no more to offer, he guessed that he wouldn't be allowed to live. In desperation, he shifted to jackal form to slip out of his bindings, but a blow from ZhaZha's pick stopped him from escaping. This time, they left the jackalwere to bleed out in the sand.

After two nights' travel, the caravan reached the small town of Dal-Raman, located at the edge of the sandy part of the Lokoran Desert. Permanent stone buildings clustered around an oasis, with the rest of the settlement consisting of simple brick buildings and tents. The party could also see some dry riverbeds that must carry water in the wet season. At the center of town was a marketplace busy with the start of the day's business. Fatou spotted a prominent sign depicting a centaur drinking from a large barrel. (She recognized the creature from her reading, but had never seen one.) When she pointed it out, her companions agreed to go visit the place--almost certainly a tavern of some kind--when their escort duties allowed.

The kobolds headed for a small caravanserai to one side of the market, near the water. Vartoranax was welcomed by the owner, a human named Akil Alim, who had hosted the merchant on previous journeys along this trade route. The kobolds needed little help with their handful of monitor lizard steeds, but Akil called over his servant Amad to see to the larger travelers' camels. This servant appeared to be a burly man at first, but when he came closer, looked more like an animated wooden statue. He and Akil bore identical glowing runes on their brows, which allowed Fatou to conclude that Akil was a summoner and Amad his eidolon. ZhaZha insisted on tending to her own camel--who did not suffer being handled by strangers--so Amad merely shrugged and tended to the other mount, Alexandra. He proved to be very effective in handling the normally-ornery beast. 

Jumari asked Tyrrentyg how long the caravan would remain here. The herald informed her that Vartoranax would spend a day here to meet with some local contacts, and that the larger folk were free to spend much of that time as they pleased. The heroes took advantage of this, selling the loot they had collected since Burburan, and using that money to acquire some new gear. Jumari found a spellcaster who could enchant her breastplate, so left her armor there for the day. (Fatou cast a mage armor spell to provide some protection as they moved on.) The inquisitor also purchased a cold iron spiked gauntlet and a silver spiked gauntlet, so that she would be prepared for creatures requiring those special materials to injure.

[Now that ZhaZha has the banner class feature, she needs to find, buy, or make her own personal banner. She lacks the necessary skills to make one herself, but the idea of buying a fancy one strikes her as a slight on her half-orc heritage. We will need to resolve this question later.]

Moving about the market, the PCs could see that the town's population was approximately half human, a quarter halfling, and the rest a mix of other races, mostly elves and half-elves. The vast majority of humans and part-humans, and all of the halflings, belonged to the darker-skinned types common throughout Asasor, while the elves seemed to all be pale-skinned high elves like Edel.

After taking care of some of their shopping, the heroes investigated the tavern. On closer view, they could read the establishment's name, "The Thirsty Centaur," which was written in both Common and Elven. Inside, the proprietress was a very attractive high elf woman, who greeted the newcomers in slightly-accented Common and introduced herself as Miriella. At Edel's query about drinks, she claimed she had a couple house brews that she was quite proud of, so the bard chose one of those. Miriella's garb was simple and utilitarian, as well as modest (baring only her face, her long red hair, and her lower arms), all quite appropriate to tending a bar. She wore one piece of jewelry, a silver pendant in the shape of cluster of leaves and seeds, which Edel recognized as a holy symbol of the Faerie Sovereigns (one of whom is his own patron deity). The bard tactfully inquired, in Elven, if Miriella would like to meet after work; she seemed amenable, favoring him with a positively blinding smile. 

Meanwhile, Jumari and ZhaZha had noticed that they were the only half-orcs in the place. Most of the patrons were humans, elves, or half-elves, with a sprinkling of halflings and gnomes. This made them both feel acutely out of place, and ZhaZha grumbled to herself as Edel continued to chat up the elven woman in their shared native language. (The cavalier finds it the height of rudeness when other  people choose to speak a language she doesn't understand instead of including her in the conversation.)

The companions eventually left the Thirsty Centaur in order to do more shopping. While they did so, a pair of liveried retainers cried out, "Make way for Elder Usama!" Behind them, an elderly human man in fine clothes and light armor rode upon a camel. ZhaZha needed only a glance to tell that the mount was of good, healthy stock. (She coveted the animal briefly, but it was male, which she felt would cause unwanted trouble with her party's two female camels.) Meanwhile, Edel and Fatou spotted a cloaked figure following the elder, trying very hard to not be noticed, and two half-orcs a short distance behind it. They alerted their friends, who briefly weighed the advantages of warning the man versus coming to his rescue. But then they saw two human men lurking under cover ahead of the tiny procession, and there was no need for debate.



ZhaZha drew her bow and shot at (and missed) one of the half-orc stalkers, while yelling, "You're giving us [half-orcs] a bad name!" Fatou cast protection from evil on the cavalier. Edel cast hideous laughter on the closer of the two human ambushers, causing the man to fall to the ground in plain sight. The other human stabbed one of Usama's retainers, and the man crumpled immediately. 

The cloaked figure revealed herself to be a half-orc woman when she clutched at something around her neck and cast hold person on the elder--who saved. Jumari cast expeditious retreat and dashed forward, yelling "Run!" at the old man. Usama spurred his camel forward, drawing a scimitar and slashing the man who had hurt his servant. He called to the other retainer to get the hurt man to safety. 

The crowd around the ambush site quickly fled the scene, making it easier for the heroes to reach the assassins. This allowed ZhaZha to charge and challenge the spellcaster, hitting with her pick. Fatou moved up to hit the caster and one of the other half-orcs with burning hands, and Edel hit the leader with an arrow. The half-orc cleric judged ZhaZha to be the biggest threat, so cast blindness at her. The cavalier resisted, and began savagely cursing her foe. Jumari moved into the thick of the melee, where cast blistering invective, burning all of her enemies. 


One of the attackers is incapacitated with hideous laughter (d6) while two are on fire from blistering invective (d4's).

One of the half-orcs moved to flank ZhaZha, and landed a sneak attack with his flail. The cavalier hit the other half-orc and started moving around him to reach the caster (who was putting out her burning clothes). By now, the heroes could see that all five attackers wore ebony disks around their necks--unholy symbols of the death cult's vile god, Asmolon. Their leader cast contagion and moved toward the elder again, but Jumari pursued and struck her down. 

The two male half-orcs flanked ZhaZha again; one hit her, but then collapsed. [He had used orc ferocity to attack that one last time.] ZhaZha hit the other one, and Fatou followed with a shocking grasp spell. The cultist spotted the cleric's holy symbol and insulted the moon goddess as he swung at her, but then keeled over himself. 

Meanwhile, Usama finally landed another blow on his opponent. Jumari moved around to flank that enemy, and the elder's camel bit the man hard enough to knock him out. "Good job, Ba'ir!" his rider cried. Jumari went to the injured retainer and stabilized him, and Usama dismounted creakily to follow her and check on his servants. Fatou helped heal the victim as well, while ZhaZha tied up the caster.

Edel took away the rapier of the man who was still laughing, and held it to his throat moments before the spell wore off. When it did, the cultist channeled negative energy, which did hardly any damage other than making the stabilized wounded start bleeding again. [Edel's readied attack proved even less effective--he rolled a natural 1 to hit the man he had at sword-point.] ZhaZha finished the cultist off with her pick. 

Jumari went to each of the cultists, and smashed their unholy symbols (which gave Fatou no opportunity to add to her collection of holy symbols--which might be just as well, given that the Lord of Endings is anathema among followers of the Javanian gods). ZhaZha went to the elder's camel and enthusiastically praised it.

The old man thanked the heroes for their timely intervention, and introduced himself as Usama, one of the elders who ruled Dal-Raman. Edel said he was welcome, then Jumari asked why the death cult wanted him dead. Usama could not answer that with any certainty, but as an elder, his death would cause chaos. The two half-orcs made sure that the attackers were all dead, except for their leader. Fatou asked the elder if there was a more private, shady place where they could question her. Usama gestured at a nearby house, obviously one of the finest in the town. "My home is right here." He showed them inside, then sent servants to help bring the bodies in off the street.

[We will conduct the interrogation, and possibly some further talk with Usama, over email.]

Elder Usama under attack (photo by Jeffrey Jones)